Thursday, December 11, 2008

Silver Globe Pitcher: Underpainting

Globe Pitcher underpainting
oil on panel
16 x 20 inches
(work in progress)

This is the completed underpainting for my most recent Wax Paper Series painting. I started this composition with sketches and a detailed contour drawing you can see in this previous post.

Using trace paper I transferred my drawing to the gessoed panel. I refined the drawing directly on the panel in pencil.

My goal was to get a very accurate drawing that described the gesture and energy of the crumpled paper, as well as a very precise geometry for the silver globe pitcher. Badly drawn round and elliptical objects in still lifes look wobbly and unconvincing, so I took a lot of time to make sure the silver globe is the correct shape. The pitcher needs to have a believable structure to make the whole painting convincing.

Contour drawing transferred from paper to panel

Once I was satisfied with the drawing (although I'm never satisfied with the drawing) I moved on to a transparent wash underpainting. Traditionally artists use a tiny brush to outline the contour drawing to "set" the graphite. I've never felt the need to do this, I find that this first wash layer of underpainting sets the graphite and I don't ever notice the pencil marks mixing with the paint in later stages. Most traditional artists would advise against this, though.

First layer of the underpainting

With the underpainting I "knock down" even the lightest lights. I've learned it's annoying and difficult to paint white paint over a white ground, so I cover every part of my surface with at least a light layer of umber paint. But I try to get a fairly full range of values so I can get a feel for what the whole painting will look like.

Second layer of the underpainting

Below I have finished the underpainting and started a small part of the opaque layer. The underpainting is transparent, meaning I use turpentine to thin the umber paint to show the white of the panel beneath. The opaque layer uses white oil paint.

Final stage of the underpainting

As you can see in the final underpainting above, there are some patchy "dry spots" especially in the upper left dark area of the painting. This is where the paint has started to "sink" into the gesso ground, and the more matte areas look chalky. This will be solved with later layers of medium-enhanced paint, so the background will look deep and dark.

So far I am really enjoying working on my hand-gessoed panels. The surface is silky and smooth but the paint really seems to "grab" it. It feels good to paint on. Which makes me happy, because gessoing the panels was a lot of work!

Below is a closeup of the beginning of the first opaque layer of painting - you can see where the upper areas of wax paper are more white and refined, that's the opaque layer:

Detail of first layer of opaque painting over transparent underpainting

To bring the painting to a convincing finish I'll have to work at least two more layers of opaque paint over this layer, probably several more in many places. At this stage I'm just laying down a "bed", so the general values and basic colors are correct. With these decisions solved I will be able to really focus on one area at a time without having to constantly back up and compare the values and colors to the rest of the painting.

See the previous blog post about this painting here.